Edinburgh International Festival review: Edinburgh Festival Chorus - Carmina Burana

It may be a while before we see the massed ranks of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus in a live setting again, but their video contribution to this year’s Edinburgh International Festival is still a crisp and cutely-choreographed take on Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana

The Edinburgh Festival Chorus: "crisp and cutely-choreographed"

Edinburgh Festival Chorus: Carmina Burana - O Fortuna & Ecce Gratum ****

On Saturday night the 2020 Edinburgh International Festival’s online rescue plan became a reality as a barrage of socially distanced performances went live on its You Tube channel. Among the most heartwarming is the 120-strong Edinburgh Festival Chorus performing two movements from Carl Orff’s earthy cantata Carmina Burana, supported by the composer’s own chamber orchestration. Think of the frustration they must have felt in March, fearing initially that an entire year’s work was set to fall victim to the curse of Covid-19.

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Instead, having been introduced to Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s fantastical, erotically charged 1975 film version for German television by chorus director Aidan Oliver in January as an initial scene-setter, the singers were asked to take note, record their individual parts at home, then lip-sync home videos replicating Ponnelle’s free-spiritedness.

The result, mastered by record producer Phil Hobbs, is a crisp if inevitably factory-made musical performance (the visceral thrill of choral singing comes from the very act of being a physical entity), but the split-screen menagerie of visual interpretations – some cutely choreographed in socially distanced groups, others enacting fantasy in domestic solitude – captures the madcap escapism of the music.

Note the satanic barbecue lighting up one gentleman chorister in O Fortuna. See the lusty chiffon dancers outside the Usher Hall, or the flower-crowned maidens frolicking to the ripe spring message of Ecce Gratum, like a fusion of Ken Russell and The Wicker Man. Observe the invincible power of music to light up people’s lives.

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